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Erik Burgess, Published March 25 2013

City of Fargo, Cass County to combine sandbagging operations

FARGO – The city and county will combine sandbag-filling efforts next week to begin fighting what may be one of the worst floods in recorded history in Fargo.

Leaders said Monday at a news conference that sandbag central will open at 8 a.m. April 3 in the city’s garbage collection building at the 2400 block of Eighth Avenue North. The goal of the city-county effort is to make 1 million new sandbags, 500,000 apiece.

“We decided maybe it makes sense to pool our resources and have one sandbag operation,” said Cass County Administrator Keith Berndt.

He said centralizing the operation may make it less confusing for volunteers.

In an updated flood outlook given on Thursday, the National Weather Service predicted a 50 percent chance the Red River will hit 38.1 feet in Fargo-Moorhead, which would be the fifth-worst on record here, topping floods in 1969, 2006 and 2010. There is a 10 percent chance of topping 40.9 feet. The record crest of 40.84-foot was set in 2009.

City leaders hope to increase their sandbag supply to 1.25 million, providing enough bags to protect against a 42.5-foot flood. It still has 750,000 sandbags left from the 2011 flood.

Cass County has no bags in reserve and officials say they estimate they’ll need 500,000 to protect against a 38-foot crest.

The city plans to lay bags in stages, first building dikes to 40 feet to protect up to the 38-foot event with 2 feet of freeboard. That will take between 200,000 to 250,000 sandbags.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said the city would have more sandbags stored “strategically” so they can be deployed quickly if it begins to look like the river will rise above the 38 feet. Where exactly those sandbags will be stored will be decided closer to the melt, Zavoral said.

When it opens, sandbag central will run from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, said Bruce Grubb, the city’s enterprise director. The city and county have a combined three “spider” sandbag-filling machines, which take about 30 people each to operate.

Grubb said the goal is to make the 1 million bags in 10 days, a rate of about 100,000 bags a day.

The city will again be turning to businesses and students to for volunteer help. Middle school students will be called upon to make bags, while high school students will be on the front lines, throwing the bags.

“Unfortunately this is something that we’re pretty well prepared for now,” said Jeff Schatz, superintendent of Fargo Public Schools.

While schoolchildren will pitch in during the school day, businesses are asked to volunteer their employees from about 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

At the city level, staff has divided Fargo into four sectors prone to flooding. Each sector has been assigned its own city engineer and fire captain.

The first sector, north of Main Avenue along the river, will require 60,000 bags to get a 40-foot dike, said City Engineer April Walker.

The second sector, between Main Avenue and 40th Avenue South, will take 70,000 bags.

The third sector, south of 40th Avenue, has benefitted the most from new permanent levees, Walker said, so it will take less sandbagging – around 10,000 bags.

The fourth sector is at the meeting point of Drain 27 and Drain 53, near Interstate 29 and 40th Avenue South. That area will take 70,000 bags to protect to a 40-foot river stage.

The city is prepared to protect up to 42.5 feet, said Deputy Mayor and City Commissioner Tim Mahoney, but they don’t want to jump the gun and waste resources.

“We don’t want people throwing sandbags if they don’t need to,” Mahoney said. “When the water is starting to flow, we’ll get a better idea of where we’re headed.”

In Cass County, if residents of subdivisions volunteer to make sandbags, they will be provided with bags free of charge, Berndt said.

County residents can also choose fill their own bags at home. The county will charge $100 per 1,000 bags, and a county truck will bring sand to the designated site, Berndt said.

In Moorhead, officials say the city has few concerns until a 40-foot flood. A 40-foot crest is expected to impact 38 households and require 163,000 sandbags.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Monday he will essentially have an “open checkbook” if the region is devastated by flooding this spring.

“You have nothing to be concerned about, no matter how large the event gets,” he said. “The state government has the authority to draw funds directly from the Bank of North Dakota to fight the flood.”

Hoeven responded to rumors the Federal Emergency Management Agency is raising flood insurance premiums across the board.

“Some areas will be grandfathered, so we’re working right now to see if the Fargo area, the Red River Valley area is grandfathered,” he said.

Hoeven said even if rates go up, they can’t go up more than 20 percent per year, which he admitted isn’t insignificant. “But it’s a far cry from some of the rumors that have been going around,” Hoeven said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518